Faculty learning communities: cultivating innovation in educational technology support organizations

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Wolff, William I.

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This study analyzes the evolution of a large state university's college program that provides competitive grants for faculty-developed courseware projects. Unlike prior studies that have considered the impact of innovations in educational technology, this study shifts the focus from the innovations themselves to the organizational structures, rhetoric, and artifacts that both facilitate and hinder the development of innovations in pedagogical uses of technology. This study was guided by three primary questions: How effective are the organizational practices of this program for its intended purposes, and what alternative possibilities might be more effective? How do the expressed criteria and past funding record of this program shape the kinds of projects that are proposed and funded? To what extent are faculty preparing proposals that are informed by a community of practice centered on technology and pedagogy? To address these questions, this study analyzes the university as an ecosystem, where students, faculty, administrators, and technology interact within information ecologies. It examines how faculty define innovative projects and the processes of innovation. And it examines the relationships among the language of grant program formal documents, the language of the proposals, and the criteria used to select which proposals receive funding. To ground the study's empirical work, I draw upon research from such diverse fields as economics, biology, education, anthropology, composition studies, communications, sociology, and engineering. This study demonstrates how the classification systems and processes that inform the development of courseware innovations are inextricably linked to the learning environments and communities in which the innovations are conceived and developed. My research suggests that organizational support structures can more effectively lead to the creation of communities of learners when instead of closed competition they facilitate open collaboration among faculty, students, and administrators. By adopting an ecological perspective administrators and faculty can design more effective organizational supports to foster the evolution of teaching and learning with technology.